California's Flu Season Is Normal So Far — But Not In LA

(NIAID)

In case you hadn't noticed all the people calling out sick, health officials are reminding people that we're in the heart of flu season.

Looking statewide, California isn't faring worse this flu season than it has in years past — so far.

"Right now things are looking like similar to what we have seen in usual flu seasons," said Dr. James Watt, chief of the division of communicable disease control with the California Department of Public Health.

But that's not the case in Los Angeles County, which is "experiencing high levels of influenza activity," according to an advisory issued Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Flu is turning up at a rate higher than the peak of all but one of the last five influenza seasons, according to the county's most recent "Influenza Watch" update.

That's also the case for the rate of ER visits for influenza-like illnesses in the county. The only recent season that saw a higher rate for flu and ER visits was the 2017-18 season, which was particularly severe.

While the statewide situation is not cause for alarm, we are still in the middle of flu season, so the disease "is circulating widely throughout the state right now," Watt said.

The state says there have been 70 influenza-related deaths in California since September.

So far, the main culprits nationally are the B/Victoria and A(H1N1) strains and that's true in California, too. The B strains are more likely to affect children, while A(H1N1) primarily impacts older folks.

Doctors say this season's flu vaccine is mostly effective against the strains that are circulating, although it's not clear yet if the vaccine will prove successful at fighting certain substrains of the B/Victoria virus.

"There are a couple different substrains of that [B/Victoria] virus that are circulating," said Watt. "Some of those substrains are very similar to what's in the vaccine, some of them appear to be a little bit different, but we don't know yet whether that difference will translate into any reduced effectiveness of the vaccine."

THERE'S STILL TIME FOR A FLU SHOT

Doctors and health officials say there's still time to get a flu shot; they recommend vaccination for anyone older than six months.

Neha Nanda, hospital epidemiologist with Keck Medicine of USC, is urging her patients to get vaccinated — not just for themselves — but for the greater good.

"Because if we reach a certain threshold of herd immunity, our immunocompromised group — our transplant patients, our stem cell transplant patients — they are at a lower risk for influenza," she said.